Signing Off

This is the last entry for a while--I'm going to concentrate instead on keeping up the WhisperShout section of my website, where I'll continue to publish children's
poems and comment on my poetry teaching in schools for the benefit of teachers and parents.  Do visit me there, and if you come across any interesting work 
by kids 5 -12, send them my way!

Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays to all...
  • Current Mood
    relieved relieved

The Big Payoff

Calloo callay!  Yesterday I received a rather substantial ROYALTY CHECK!  This gives me a swelling feeling of being Fairly Compensated and sure beats
my last royalty experience, when I received a check for $147 on the same day I got a speeding ticket (my only moving violation EVER) for $145.  The cosmic 
irony was excruciating.

Meanwhile, I started this blog partly because I wished to join the online community of writers for children and here I am, blogging away for two months now (okay not
daily like some of you lot but still pretty steadily) and I can't tell if anyone is reading me or not.  Would appreciate a notice if anyone, like me, is visiting my blog 
but not finding anything pressing to comment about--just so I know whether I'm writing into the void (which would then make the blog valuable as an exercise/
record/reflection for me, ie still valuable but easier to write).  Or, perhaps this blog will change its face and become something else....

I'm doing too many things at once (as usual) but most of them are fun, like judging a PTA-sponsored writing contest for an elementary school in Arlington.  I'm writing comments 
now for kids K-2 who have submitted to the Literature Section on the theme "My Favorite Place."  Best nuggest so far is "The excitement fills my heart to make it
beet so functionally hard."  It's very hard to award only three ribbons when you know the children's names, ages, and other identifying information!  I'm exerting
myself to be encouraging.

Wrote a little poem for a purpose this week, for a poetry gift workshop on the theme of Winter Solstice. I'm still shocked that I can write to fill a specific need and 
find something challenging and fun and surprising in doing it.  And I really enjoy searching out and selecting poems for an anthology on a certain subject.  Here are the ones 
I chose for "Poems to Light the Darkest Night:"

Winter Solstice   by Marilyn Singer
Winter Moon        by Langston Hughes
The New Moon   by Eve Merriam (my new favorite poem; see below)
The Winter Sun   by Douglas Florian
I Heard a Bird Sing  by Oliver Herford
The Moon Moves by Yours Truly
Winter Dark          by Lilian Moore
Dark Night            by BeiYin
christmas lights  by Valerie Worth
We Light a Candle (the one mentioned above)
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

The New Moon


Hold on to me.

We will slip carefully carefully

don`t tip it over

into this canoe

pale as birch bark


and with the stars

over our shoulders


down the dark river

of the sky.


Do not delay.

By next week

the canoe will be bulging with cargo,

there will be no room

inside for us.


Tonight is the time.

Step carefully.

Hold on to me.



~ Eve Merriam


Golden Day

After an October as chilly as I can remember, our Halloween was PERFECT:  bright and warm all day, leaves curling and drying and rustling, and then eerie
clouds crossing the moon as we Clown, Skeleton and Spectre set out to maraud the neighborhood in a night with just the right lick of coolness.

This was rather different from the dark and stormy weather that surrounded the "Spooky Poetry Supper" I hosted for a couple of families on Friday night.  
We ate lots of orange food and read and wrote handfuls of seasonal poems by the light of our three jack-o'lanterns.  It was fun and funny and one of the
best pieces of the evening is now posted at WhisperShout, the page of my website on which I hope to publish online a steady stream of kids' poems. 
"Spider's Web," by Anonymous, age 9, is atmospheric, creepy and makes excellent use of its models.

Today I'm facing another crack at the list poem as well as revising a PIP (poem in progress, of course) inspired by the painting in my parlor by Elyse 
Harrison of Gallery Neptune and Little City Art Studio.  But this work will feel lighter (and isn't writing always some kind of fun?) because I have received
compliments and encouragement from The Big Ed on my new collection to buoy me up!   Yes, I thrive on affirmation!  And yes, there is lots yet to do!

NewsFlash:  I finally finished Harry Potter 6 on Saturday and am now free from the bonds that have held me in sleep-deprived thrall for several weeks.

And now, this week's poem, an old favorite by Valerie Worth:

After its lid
is cut, the slick
Seeds and stuck
Wet strings
Scooped out,
Walls scraped
Dry and white,
Face carved, candle
Fixed and lit,
Light creeps
Into the thick
Rind: giving
That dead orange
Vegetable skull
Warm skin, making
A live head
To hold its
Sharp gold grin.
  • Current Music
    Groove Armada, "At the River"

(no subject)

There is a state of mind I enter as I drift between waking and sleep.  In it I can access deep layers of memory (on a recent morning I found myself holding
forth in competent German, last used 22 years ago), and I can see, with my eyes closed, things that are invisible to me in daylight.  This morning, right after
I noticed in my mind's eye how truly filthy the bowl of Black-Eyed the betta fish is, I realized that I have been diarizing here the details of everyday life rather
than journaling about my process as a writer--which was my original intent.  (I forgive myself, since there's such a fine line between living the details
of everyday life and reflecting on them with the mind of a writer.)  So, with renewed self-discipline, I'll return to journaling, and remind myself also that this
is supposed to be useful for all ages.

I'm working on a list poem.  I heard that Georgia Heard is putting together a collection, and I was challenged--not least because, I thought, the list poem
is rather a narrow genre, tricky to come up with an original approach.  But then I thought of a haiku I wrote soon after I discovered's 
excellent mamaku.  I composed this during a dimly-lit, early-morning pre-cleaner blitz of the playroom:

two yellow fences,
a snowman, a cucumber:
what game could this be?

I liked the idea that a list of small toys and household items found in proximity on the playroom floor could suggest a game--or perhaps a story--but was it
enough for a list poem?  Also, I had 20 minutes while standing in the noisy crowded waiting area of Silver Stars Gymnastics to write something before my
writing group meeting that evening (and this is why my published book is dedicated to Robin and Erika.  Without their gently firm expectations I might never
have written another poem after I had two children in addition to my "day job."  Note to teachers who may be reading this:  consider the impact of long-term 
small writing groups in your 4th-6th grade classrooms.)  I scribbled a list of objects I knew were lying on the playroom floor at that very moment (including the
cucumber as homage to the first haiku draft), but nothing much was happening.  When I got home and typed it up, a title came along to rescue the whole 
project:  The Playroom Floor Writes a Novel.  I felt  that all kinds of scenarios were suggested to the imagination by the list of things, which began:

a yellow kangaroo
an empty tissue box
three pennies
a remote-control motorcycle and
a plastic slice of cucumber

By now the writing group (henceforth known as the WG) has seen a second draft--we all felt that there ought to be a more obvious plot than the first list suggested,
and so I've rearranged the order of the toys and objects, modified them with adjectives and adverbs to indicate action and change:

the stuffed caterpillar
the plastic cucumber
a cheerful red bandanna
an inflatable kangaroo and
Billy Blazes's axe

But it's still not there, and I'm questioning how much I can describe the items in the list and still call it a list poem.  Also, for the first time in a while I'm not sure I can pull the 
whole idea off, and I feel that there's a danger that I can't make this into a poem that deserves its space on paper--which is frustrating, because we can all feel that something
very cool is possible here.

Stay tuned...and check out this poem I'd never come across, from a nice anthology from England called 100 Best Poems for Children, chosen by children and edited by Roger McGough.

from The Tree in Season by Robert Fisher

The tree shivers in the shortening day
its leaves turn gold
the clouds pass
the seeds fall
the tree drops its coins of gold
and the days are rich
with the spending of leaves

Freedom, freedom...

Today, as noted above, is WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4, which means that my children are both going to school while I stay home and pursue my poet
career.  YIPPEE!  And, it being October, I'm also enjoying the couple of hours during which Little D stays for Lunch Bunch but I get to leave our shared 
nursery school.

I feel this sense of elated opportunity despite the fact that houseguests are arriving today and tomorrow, which will require me to do housework for at 
least half of this free time.  But even housework feels more fun when I don't have to worry about being repeatedly interrupted by the needs of other people.
What is that about me that needs to get stuck in and do ONE THING for a good long chunk of time without stopping?  And how is it related to my primal need to
make lists and plans and schedules?

Ah, here comes an interruption now, in the form of the disappointing crumbling of a Lego pirates' hideaway--actually Megabloks, the tiny kind, which are 
very inferior to the real Lego and therefore quite frustrating.  However, you can take off Jack Sparrow's tiny arms and legs and even his head, which makes for 
fun new pirate identities:  Captain Peghead, for example....

Later:  so, you're wondering, how is the writing going?  Well, I'm STILL waiting to hear anything substantive from The Big Ed at Boyds Mills, although we have exchanged
well-intentioned emails, but meanwhile I've had some good feedback from editor and book-consultant friend on my shreds of an early-grades chapter series, which
I would work on daily if I had bushels of time.

However (and this has got to be directly affected by my current desperate and occasionally irresponsible re-reading of the entire Harry Potter series, ignited by our attendance 
at a neighbor boy's really fabulously fun HP birthday party), I did write a STORY this week!  You know, like a 6-page fairy tale picture book for the elementary set with a beginning,
middle and end, with characters and a plot and everything.  It needs work, of course, but I was just plain delighted at the idea that I can do that, think of a story and arc it and 
conclude it--which is what writing poems (although they do need endings) always allows me to avoid.  And so thanks to Little D for demanding a story about the woman in a red 
dress riding a motorcycle hanging on the wall of a bakery.

AND, wonder of wonders, I actually yanked the parlor chair aside, sat down in it, and wrote the beginnings of a poem about the strange, slightly sinister character in my friend 
Elyse Harrison's painting, which has been in my parlor for two months but which I had to stash behind the chair because it was creeping my kids out.  I think we thought I would write
poems for children about her paintings, but I don't know now.  And the strangest thing is, just as I began to think of this character as one of several performers in an unusual 
circus, the very same day Elyse sent out an announcement about her new show featuring another painting--and its character is another performer, someone who fits right 
in with my circus idea!
  On occasions like these I believe in some kind of psychic-vibe communication....

Now then, I have business to attend to.  In addition to revising my story, and a list poem from a couple weeks ago, I  have requests to visit schools to follow up on, and a proposal 
to write for my aftercare program which starts in November thanks to my grand friend Vicki Steuerwalt.

If you're reading this, then you're a friend:  do feel free to connect me up with any others who might be interested in the minutiae of my life...

Exchange of the Week:
Uncle Mark, phoning on the morning of Little D's 4th birthday:  "Happy Birthday, Big Guy!"
Little D:  "Uncle Mark, have you stopped smoking those foolish cigarettes yet?"

  • Current Music
    piped-in Albinoni--could be worse

Lists and Inventions

I had set aside a good chunk of time for an update and now I've spent it all replying to a French family who may be interested in doing a year-long home exchange--
which is our latest idea for going to live in Paris for a year.  And why would we?  For the Experience, darling, for the Experience...

So, I don't get my Wednesdays off at the nursery school until October, nor is there yet any Lunch Bunch for little D--so my time to write/journal/post is
rather limited at the moment.  Still, here are some happenings:

I got an email from Georgia Heard (who blurbed my book, wonderful woman)--not a personal email, exactly, but still a very exciting invitation to
submit a list poem for a collection she's editing.  I've been mentally listing ideas for such a poem since surprisingly, I have none in my "portfolio," as 
you might call it.

And yesterday I was out walking with my Zen Micro (mp3 player) in hand for the first time in a while, and as I admired the slanting beams of the
early morning sun, I found myself wishing that my little device had a compass built in, so that I could test my grasp of the four ways.  Was I really heading 
west-northwest?  Then I wondered if there was something antithetical about the workings of the Zen and those of a compass--like would the magnet 
the hard disk, or the computer guts interfere with the compass?  These questions fall into my Unknown Zone, the realm of things I know next to nothing
about, or just enough to ask stupid questions.

Tomorrow:  a poem and a list of inventions....
  • Current Music
    theme song to "Diego"
  • Tags

Back to School

With renewed focus (I love back-to-school time so much that I became a teacher so that I could enjoy it every year of my life) and  
renewed vigor (I heard today that a friend who visited my website for another reason actually READ my journal), I return to blogging.

Here, in brief, is what's been going on...

1)  Have heard, somewhat cryptically, from new editor at old house that there is "enthusiasm" for the new work I submitted.  Feel hopeful but am preparing
     for the possibility that I will soon receive a very enthusiastic rejection.

2)  Have reconvened with the writing group (hi, Robin and Erika; hope you're reading this) with the fervor of long-parted lovers okay sisters,
      and have found them as productive and helpful as ever.

3)  Have finally completed, copied, folded, stamped and addressed flyers advertising my new after-school program The WordPlay Club, and
     am hoping no one thinks it's a crossword club for 6-8 year-olds.

4)  Have learned that if I read to my daughter downstairs on the sofa instead of in her bed in my pajamas, I can stay awake and do justice
     to the book, which excitingly at the moment is one of my all-time faves, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Am shocked 
     to discover how long ago it was published, almost a whole decade before I first read it.

My title reminds me that I surprised myself by writing a September 11 poem (in 2001 I was generally unable to engage with it all), on which
happy note I will close for tonight...

Back to School

It’s fall: some say
the loveliest time of the year.
Reds and glorious oranges flare in the tops
of skyscrapers; planes
plunge gracefully to the ground,
and people, like the eager leaves,
leap to their earthy fates.
Smoke rises from early morning fires.
Raking commences.
And all across America,
after a careless, endless summer
we go back to school.
In our classrooms, we read the writing
on the wall. We practice our letters
to the editor, and, because
the new curriculum requires it,
we use technology to number
all the dead.

  • Current Music
    Duncan Sheik; "White Limousine"
  • Tags


Yes, I have a confession to make:  I am not a very well-read poet.  That is, I have never trawled my way through 811 the way I am doing
this summer, and while there have always been poets I knew and poems I loved,  there is an awful lot that's new.  There's even an awful 
lot that's old that's new, such as Carl Sandburg:

Lumber Yard Pools at Sunset

The rain pools in the old lumber yard
change as the sky changes.

No sooner do lightfoot sunset maroons
cross the west than they cross the
rain pools too.

So now every blue has a brother
and every singing silver a sister.

(from Early Moon, c. 1930)

I can't decide if being a poorly-read poet is a good or a bad thing.  On the one hand, there aren't too many voices competing with my own
when I write--I write what I want to write, not worrying about avoiding writing what someone else has already written, and i write it the way I 
want to.  On the other hand, there are things I might like to try that I might not think of all by myself, and ignorant moments I have and will
always suffer.  And there are pleasures abounding that I have to look forward to--which is a good thing, not a bad one.

  • Current Music
    Graham Parker, Squeezing Out Sparks

News Flash! WhisperShout, the webpage for young poets...

I've been wanting for a long time to make a space on my website for young writers to publish their work, and now here it is:  WhisperShout.  
By emailing their work to me, young poets (up to age 14) can get editorial advice and a chance to see their poems in print!  I'm excited and will
be inviting some kids I know to send me their writing in the next couple of days.  Any of you Friends out there who know someone who might like 
to join in the wordplay, please spread the news!


Okay, the correct word may be sweaty, but I am certainly enjoying the feeling of having time at home to get things done AS WELL AS to play a little bit.  Yesterday I lay in bed for an hour in the middle of the morning and finished a book (The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin--I'm still catching up Newberies that I somehow missed).  Today, after I completely rewrote the last troublesome poem of Ghosts and then bravely clicked Send to get it to Boyds Mills, I read a little piece by F's dad (the one who writes the stories for D and D), a parody of the "The Lady of Shallotte" (how long since you thought about that, eh?) and then knocked off my own.  And every day this week I have done 45 minutes on the treadmill while watching the first season of "The West Wing."  I love it when I can be responsible and self-indulgent at the same time!

At this rate I may write something about my friend Elyse's intriguing painting, which she dropped by this morning.  Elyse runs Gallery Neptune/Little City Art Studio here in Bethesda, and is a really interesting artist, a fantastic teacher and a catalytic personality.  She makes all kinds of things happen, and my most favorite idea of hers is that we should do a book of her paintings and my poems...but I'm not sure this is a first line for children:  "Hula hell am I?"

On the downside, I have been declined as a participant in the programming for Family Week in Provincetown, but Squeeze will be sold there by Bobbie Combs of Two Lives Publishing/We Love Children's Books, so maybe I can finagle a chance to read a few poems and sign a few copies.  I'm set, I think, for an event on the way to Ptown at a bookstore in Barrington, RI, suggested by my friend Janice Okoomian.  And perhaps I do deserve just to be on vacation for a week....

POEMS OF THE WEEK  ( I haven't forgotten)  by the wondrous Ralph Fletcher!

Ma                                                                                                     Bedroom Ocean

Salmon hatch in a stream,                                                          Dad says:  Go to sleep,
swim out to the ocean,                                                                 But instead I lie in bed,
but they always return
to the stream of their birth.                                                           The darkness is the ocean.
                                                                                                          These fingers are seaweed
Today I said:  "Bye, Ma,"                                                                floating this way and that.
and I got a funny feeling.
                                                                                                          My oyster eyelids
Then it hit me:                                                                                slowly open and close.
Ma was my first word.                                                                   My eyes shine like pearls.

As if the word swam back
to where it all began.
  • Current Music
    Zero 7, The Garden